Brussels shooter escaped prison in Tunisia and should have been extradited but Belgian authorities lost his file

FILE - Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne resigned on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023, after it was discovered that Tunisia sought the extradition last year of an Islamic extremist who shot dead two Swedes and wounded a third earlier this month in Brussels. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
By Thomas Brooke
3 Min Read

The Islamic terrorist who stabbed to death two Swedish football fans in Brussels on Oct. 16 had been the subject of an extradition request from the Tunisian authorities after escaping from prison where he was serving a 26-year sentence for multiple attempted murders.

According to Belgian media, Tunisian national Abdesalem Lassoued had been jailed in his home country after being convicted on two counts of attempted murder in 2005, but escaped in 2011 and fled to Europe where he was free to roam for years before opening fire on Swedish nationals attending a football match in Brussels last Monday.

The Brussels prosecutor’s office revealed that Tunis had issued an extradition request for Lassoued in August 2022, but this was never actioned by Belgian authorities.

A senior source within the Brussels office told De Standaard newspaper that Lassoued’s file never made it before the relevant magistrate to action the request “due to an internal administrative error.”

The bombshell admission from the Belgian authorities led to an inquest over the weekend between Brussels Public Prosecutor Tim De Wolf, his superior, Attorney General Johan Delmulle, and the magistrate in question to ascertain how such a mistake could have been allowed to happen.

“The serious understaffing of the Brussels public prosecutor’s office played a role, but this is not a justification,” De Wolf said at a press conference on Sunday.

He explained that a routine review every six months of outstanding requests had not taken place in the spring due to an increased workload, telling journalists that it is likely the file would have been located and dealt with in the coming weeks during an upcoming inspection.

“The file should have been dealt with a year earlier. Society has not received what it is entitled to and that deeply hurts our sense of responsibility,” said De Wolf. “This leaves a deep mark on all colleagues involved who give their best every day when handling these files. Everything possible must be done to avoid recurrence,” he added.

The debacle led to the resignation of Belgium’s Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne late on Friday evening who expressed his desire to “take political responsibility for this unacceptable mistake.”

“I sincerely want to apologize on behalf of justice to the victims and their loved ones. I would also like to apologize in the name of justice to the Swedish people and our Belgian fellow citizens,” he told journalists when announcing his exit.

Paul Van Tigchelt was formally sworn in as his successor on Sunday.

Van Tigchelt had been serving as Van Quickenborne’s chief of staff and had formally led Belgium’s Coordination Body for Threat Analysis (OCAM) for four years.

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